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Remembering Baltimore's treasured social organizations

Brenda Bowe Johnson | 2/13/2015, 10:12 a.m.
Many organizations in Baltimore formed forty, fifty and even sixty years ago. These organizations were established to provide social, cultural, ...
The Pierians, Inc.

— Many organizations in Baltimore formed forty, fifty and even sixty years ago. These organizations were established to provide social, cultural, civic and service networks at a time when black Americans had limited access to many public venues due to Jim Crow laws. Some organizations became national because black Americans in other large cities were facing the same issues of segregation. This month a few of these organizations will be highlighted. These organizations have continued their legacy of supporting and uplifting our community.

The Pierians, Inc. – 1958

It all began in Baltimore, when Annette Colbert Johnson conceived the idea of forming a cultural group. She shared this idea with a group of nine friends, being very clear that she was interested in organizing a cultural club, not one that focused on the social or service. There would be no card playing and no ticket selling. The members would go to the theater, the opera, the symphony and the museums.

In December, 1958, the group was formed. Annette Colbert Johnson referred to this first group as charter members, and herself as the founder. The charter members were Lydia Mussenden; Gwendolyn Tartar; Mamie Todd; Jewel Mosely; Hazel Fleming; Mercedes Douglas; Kathleen Carter; Charlotte Mebane; and Olivia Dixon.

The Pierians are devoted to the purpose of promoting and encouraging the study and enjoyment of the fine arts. George Moore, a linguist and a Baltimore City School Language Arts Department chairman, is credited with suggesting the name Pierians to the group. Pieria was a region of ancient Macedonia, one of the earliest seats of the Muses.

In the fifty-seven years since beginning, the Pierians have grown from the original Baltimore group of ten, to 12 Pierian chapters across eight states. Baltimore’s group first expanded to establish a second chapter in Washington, DC in 1979 beginning the fulfillment Pierian Annette Colbert Johnson’s dream--to see Pierian chapters across the United States.

Washington chapter member, Dr. Jesse Colson, convened the first National Assembly of the Pierians in 1982 and served as the first national president. This assembly took place in the Eisenhower Library at Homewood campus of Johns Hopkins University. In 1983, the Pierians became incorporated. The Pierians, Inc. in 1993, presented the official documents of the organization to the Maryland Historical Society of Baltimore, Maryland to ensure a place in the chronology of organizations in Maryland.

In 2008, the National Executive body and all chapters celebrated the 50th anniversary of the founding of The Pierians, Inc. in Baltimore. Original charter members, Dr. Jewel Mosely Gray, Lydia Mussenden, Gwendolyn Tartar, and Mamie Todd were honored on that occasion, having been Pierians for fifty years. Pierians Mussenden and Gray continue to be active and influential members of the Baltimore Chapter.

The Baltimore Chapter has maintained a long-standing relationship with Morgan State University with the support and guidance of James E. Lewis, a former art professor and director of the Morgan Art Gallery. Lewis designed the Pierians insignia which was adapted from an African gold weight of the Ashanti tribe. It was designed for the Pierians to wear as a pin. Art shows and presentations of aspiring artists have been hosted at the James E. Lewis Museum and Art Gallery for over fifty years. Jacqueline Lewis, the wife of James Lewis, was an active Pierian until her recent retirement.